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Conscience matters in gay marriage vote


Depending upon the outcome of this weekend's ALP National Conference, it appears the Commonwealth Parliament will vote on same sex marriage next year using the conscience vote method. Julia Gillard is recommending this approach, while reiterating her personal opposition.

Let's be clear. Conscience votes — votes free from party discipline — are primarily an act of strategy by leaders, not recognition of parliamentary conscience. They do, though, inject humanity into the proceedings of Parliament.

There has been on average less than one a year in the Commonwealth and each state parliament over the past 50 years. Such votes are often closely associated with the moral and ethical issues that follow any departure from traditional Christian morality. Same-sex marriage is typical.

One of the earliest conscience votes in the 1950s concerned marriage and divorce law reform, but over several decades at both the state and Commonwealth level abortion law reform was the prime example of parliamentary legislation by conscience vote.

During the Howard years the votes concerned euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, the RU-486 'abortion drug' and cloning.

Conscience votes are usually offered in tandem by the government and opposition parties. To not do so, as Tony Abbott now proposes, is against the spirit of the exercise. Ultimately he will not be able to resist pressure to allow Coalition members a conscience vote.

Such votes are often accompanied by two other distinguishing features, private members bills and the participation of powerful, non-government lobby groups, as in this case.

The parties stand back, as Gillard is doing, because they don't know how to handle such issues, when opposition is rooted in deeply-held religious traditions and big church organisations. Gillard has already promised the Australian Christian Lobby that Labor will not change its policy during this term.

The object of allowing a conscience vote is to satisfy MPs firmly opposed to such changes and thereby to avoid MPs crossing the floor and perhaps splitting the party. This applies to both sides of politics, but especially Labor because of its collectivist, majority-rules tradition. The individualist Liberal tradition prides itself on being more sympathetic to the individual consciences of its parliamentarians.

One criticism of conscience votes is that, if they are such worthwhile exercises in freedom of speech, they should be applied more widely to issues of public morality, such as international relations. But that mistakes the whole point of the exercise. Party leaders don't want to lose control.

The stronger criticism is that they let parties off the hook when they should be leading the policy debate. According to this criticism they are undemocratic, because parties owe a responsibility to their voters to take a stand and be held accountable.

This is the thrust of the argument by Finance Minister Penny Wong, against a conscience vote on same-sex marriage. She argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that 'a conscience vote is not a substitute for reforms to the platform which are long overdue', and that 'equality should not be a matter of conscience; it should be reflected in Labor policy'.

But a conscience vote does at least produce a formal public parliamentary debate. The character of these debates highlights the humanity and human experiences of MPs in a way that competitive party debates never do. Wong embodies such humanity, as a gay political leader arguing within her party for same-sex marriage policy.

In euthanasia votes, MPs often reflect on their own experiences during the illness and subsequent death of a family member. For some this translates into support for euthanasia, for others opposition. Likewise abortion law reform votes often see women MPs publicly reflecting on having experienced an abortion.

Any parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage will have the same human character. MPs will reflect personally and often painfully on questions of sexuality and gay rights within their family environment and among friends. Should same-sex marriage ultimately win out, such human stories will play a crucial role in that success.


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a columnist with The Canberra Times.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, gay marriage, conscience votes, julia gillard



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Existing comments

In the context of ongoing discussion, the same sex marriage should not be viewed as a problem of morality, religion, culture, tradition, and even sexuality. This is a human rights issue of whether an individual has the absolute right to choose a life companion regardless of relevant moral, religious, and cultural values dominating in society. Such a fundamental human right of an individual should prevail, and society must accept and protect this right of an individual.

Andreas Berg | 02 December 2011  

It's interesting the use of the term "conscience" in votes of this kind. The only way I can see its applicability is if it stands for "what a politician's reflection will let him or her put up with without self-recrimination". Put that way, it doesn’t sound so noble, especially since a factor behind any vote may be as much a voter and public backlash as any relationship with one’s God or whatever their existential moral ideal is. Now I guess it’s a convenient short-hand, and I recognise that in the formation of any moral judgment one’s past experiences and reactions play an important and integral part, but I wonder how much forensic analysis we are likely to hear and consider from the politicians. I think that we need some engaging and robust philosophy, and not just personal anecdote, here.

Stephen Kellett | 02 December 2011  

The ongoing effort to paint Christian churches and their followers as the main barrier to gay marriage ignores the reality that more people are preferring civil ceremonies to church weddings, heading instead in their droves to registry offices, and, literally, pastures green. The editorial in The Sunday Age (“When a conscience vote is a political cop-out”, 27/11) seeks to deliberately pit churchgoers against non churchgoers, as if they’re the real villains, and that’s a real cop-out. Why pick on “religious grounds” ? Prime Minister Gillard, as a self-professed atheist, says she supports the ”traditional” view of marriage, as being between a man and a woman. So what that it’s also ‘the religious view” of some. Surely the ultimate betrayal of principle is to force anyone to act against their own conscience. It’s the word “tradition” that’s really under threat, not “church”. They are not one and the same but “tradition” looks set to be given an unwanted make-over, like the word “gay” was, never to be the same again. A knife and a fork are not the same as two knives or two forks, and no amount of re-labelling, however solemn, legislative or otherwise, will ever transform a knife into a fork or vice versa. Civil unions between people of opposite sexes officially recognize such couples, and society in general has applauded the laws that have done away with discrimination against homosexuals in so many areas, especially legal entitlements. Men may well enjoy sex among their own sex, and women too, and some may prefer to act out the role of a male or a female regardless of whether they are one or the other, but that will never change the actual realities The ultimate absurdity would be for all of us, heterosexual or homosexual couples, to eventually take up the cudgels and insist…under the law…like royalty everywhere, to be declared, regarded, known and described as royal couples. Don’t laugh, it’d have to be the next step. Wouldn’t want that on my conscience!

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 02 December 2011  

Brian Haill - Your cutlery analogy is all well and good, but how do you explain chopsticks?

Charles Boy | 02 December 2011  

Andreas same sex union is absolutely a religious, moral, cultural, traditional issue. "Human rights" is the words of the moment used when a group wants to get their own way. the flavour of the month.
Religious? in all scriptures. Moral. see lifestyles, tradition? in which tradition was homosexual marriage legal? Cultural, marriage throughtout all time and cultures has been between man and woman for their own comfort, protection, life and procreation. Marriage until now has meant that and has been respected in all societies as meaning that.
That two males or two females want to be together as a union? that's their business and not mine, but to change the meaning of "marriage", which has inbuilt into a meaning encompasing "future" (which homosexual union doesnt-(except artifically) that is my business and should be the business of all who value our recognised social norms and traditions and future of society. And of course those of us who believe that God designed a man and woman in a specific way for their edification and to continue His work of creation. That is marriage and not what is proposed by some trying to legitimise their disordered union.

Anne Lastman | 02 December 2011  

What about what the majority of Australian voters who would be against changing the definition of marriage from one man and one woman only? They don't get a conscience vote on this most important decision in our society.

I am greatly opposed to same sex marriage. I think it is an abomination against God's Law of Marriage being between a man and a woman and cries out to heaven for vengeance. It is a terrible offense against God and his plan for salvation of souls.

I think just that a referendum should be allowed before politicians can change such an accepted part of Australian society not just a few politician who may be trying to be politically correct and vote to ensure their reputation as a "progressive" politician' not be damaged. Most politicians live in a different world to us in the rarefied world of political intrigue.

Same sex marriage is an aberration. The sexual act is only to procreate children, not to satisfy lust as such. There seems to be little concern about personal hygiene and living a healthy life for our bodies as God commanded.

Trent | 02 December 2011  

Very simply if we all know the 10 c0mmandments and understand them then there would be no need for conscience votes-- euthanasia and abortion are covered under thou shalt not kill as an example. Life begins at conception. Why did god create ADAM and Eve?

These things need to be discussed and theologians using plain english need to ensure there voices are heard.

PHIL | 02 December 2011  

I just wish politicians voted according to their conscience in all legislation. When you think about it - shouldn't all votes be "conscience" votes!

David Crowley | 02 December 2011  

John's article is a welcome and worthwhile contribution to the discourse on how this matter might be dealt with in parliament and about the 'conscience vote' process. It is not about the merits or otherwise of same sex marriage. Unfortunately, I expect that most of the posts here today will ignore the thrust of John's article and focus only on the 'rights' (and mostly) 'wrongs' of the substantive issue or, if they do focus on the process, it will be about what process is likely to achieve the outcome that they want. But as John suggests, 'conscience' votes are more about maintaining discipline and control than about respecting individual rights which, presumably, is why he asserts that Abbott will ultimately not be able to resist pressure to give Coalition members a 'conscience' vote too.

Ginger Meggs | 02 December 2011  

I too am disappointed by the PM granting a conscience vote, though realistically it is the only way to deal with this issue. What concerns me now is that when policticans examine their own consciences, too often thay allow their personal experience to dominate their decision (of course that is possbily the point and one you make well!). Personal reflections however only go so far on this issue for me and we need to be able to appeal to a shared common good. That is the bigger issue here; is there any common good in affirming that the public institution of marriage should remain an instituion which is based upon a union between a man and a woman and is the foundational building block of society overall? (Opps I sound like Frank Brennan!). What that means to society overall must be the ultimate question that MPs ask themselves, but this just does not cut through. The issue is overshadowed by too much emphasis on MP's personal experience with a member of the GLBTI community. In approaching it this way ultimately it becomes a decison of personal preference, with no appreciation of any collective impact such a decison may have. I hope our MPs will keep that in mind as surely that must be a consideration in any exercise of conscience?

more than the personal | 02 December 2011  

Its not just about gay 'marriage'. with gay marriage comes a deconstruction of what it means to be 'parent' and 'family'. By calling a relationship - that cannot every biologically produce its own offspring - a 'married couple', you are also redefining what it means to be a son or a daughter. I flinch at the 'biological fallacy' that reproductive technology has created - where gay parents wish to change birth certificate information to show their names - even though they are not the biological parents. It is lunacy, and show how the power of lobbying can result in complete 'untruths' being considered acceptable. Personal testimony ought not be powerful enough to change social structures that effect all of us. over and over you hear personal testimony of the difficulties gay people experience, not being accepted in the community, but deconstructing marriage and trying to grasp at it to validate the gay way of life, is not the answer. I have no desire to deride or threaten gay people, and the choices they make. Ultimately - as a Christian - I respect the gift of people's free will. I will contend with the gay lobby if I feel they are trying deconstruct a social reality that relates directly to me and my family. Their attempt to re-write what marriage is, effects all of us. Its not just about gays.

Cate | 02 December 2011  

Commentators in yesterday's debate on abortion in Eureka Street highlighted the hijacking of truth by politically correct language and consideration of individual wishes(selfishness?) of interest groups in legislative enactments. "Gay marriage"?? "Sad" might be a more apt descriptor. Sad that legislatures should spend any time at all legislating to formalise the manner in which some seek sexual gratification no matter of what orientation.

john frawley | 02 December 2011  

To define gay relationships as `disorderd unions' is lacking in charity, and based on a painfully naive hermeneutic. Recent accessible scholarship in this area is presented in 5 uneasy pieces: http://atfpress.com/five-uneasy-pieces.html. The witness of scripture on this topic is neither simple nor obvious, and though the Church has traditionally condemned gay relationships tradition can and does change.

mervyn thomas | 02 December 2011  

I think John’s article eloquently explains the function of a ‘conscience vote’ in Parliament.
It seems to me that as a society we are not sufficiently mature enough to know the best answer to the question of legalized same sex unions.
The word marriage is definitely inappropriate for same sex couples. However this does not mean they cannot be legitimately recognized by law.
I suggest a new word be found to legally recognize the union of same sex couples, because they should be accorded the dignity that is due by virtue of their God given personhood.
The political activist Elie Wiesel once wrote: We are all partners in the quest for life; the essential questions have no answers. But we have dialogue and the moment we have answers there is no more dialogue, only division.
I think as Christians we are obliged to recognize and affirm the dignity of each person (gay couples too) and find a way to create a world that allows for beauty and a sense of well being.
This means we should strive to find a greater consciousness of the issues at hand in accordance with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Trish Martin | 02 December 2011  

Brian Haill writes that:

'A knife and a fork are not the same as two knives or two forks, and no amount of re-labelling, however solemn, legislative or otherwise, will ever transform a knife into a fork or vice versa.'

But surely we're all Splayds when you think about it...Splayds with the same wants, desires and (hopefully) rights to be married.

Penelope | 02 December 2011  

What a farce this is!

Gillard has no 'conscience' whatsoever.

brought up as a 'good Baptist' she now says she is an 'atheist', whatever that means, but has carried with her her 'baptist values'.

Utter rot and toadstools!

There is no 'conscience' vote on ging to war, or selling out workers jobs, or cutting legislation to curb the greed of bankers and investors, or on keeping tax rorts as a primary means to build wealth in this nation, is there?

No, only when 'religion' intrudes its ugly head into political posturing do we see the pathetic attempts, like Geoff Wilson from the ALP in Qld on the Bligh stitch-up the other night,being used as an excuse to hide from 'we the people'.

As for Abbotts crew wanting a pretend conscience vote, Hell, they can always cross the floor on whatever they like in the Liberal Party, so why would they need a special pretend vote?

Funny how there was no sign of 'conscience' in Gillard's grovelling to the Australian Christian Lobby as she gifted that missionary crew $222m of our ATO funds to sign up young people in public schools to her 'Baptist values' she so loves, but seems to misunderstand when they apply to her 'sinful' relationship with Tim.

harry wilson | 02 December 2011  

Trish Martin

This may come as a shock to you but not everyone in Australia is a Christian, nor wants to have Christianity rammed down their throats in this manner.

You can certainly take note of what you think your Jesus character said, but why should you try to impose your imaginary world view onto those who do not share it?

The modern Church seems to pay little heed to what Jesus ever said anyway, particularly the Roman Catholic section of it with all the sexual abuse and financial rorting that goes on within it, so what 'moral' claims can ever be made from within its sullied walls on the matter of marriage is beyond me.

As for our PM, well, she is hardly in a position to use 'moral tones' in this matter, is she?

Janice Wallace | 02 December 2011  

Our sexual orientation is innate and natural. It is not something learnt. Jesus has nothing to say on the issue. It is barely mentioned in either the Jewish Bible or the New Testament - seven times in all.Scripture scholars dismiss these references as having anything useful to say on homosexuality. Most references are concerned with rape, pederasty and the Jewish understanding of hospitality. The scriptures are not to be read literally but read and understood in their historical context. Our ethics cannot be taken on what the writers of Leviticus wrote in the sixth century BCE. Modern science research indicates that sexual orientation is largely determined by the time of birth, partly by genetics, but more specifically by hormonal activity in the womb.

Many of the Christian churches have this issue wrong. Eventually the Catholic Church, in particular, will be forced to apologise to gay people in the same way as they have been forced, belatedly, to Galileo. In this debate we should be celebrating love not ignorance.

Kevin Peoples | 02 December 2011  

No matter the perspective; we can not package, "Christianize" and legislate an immoral act.

Up close and candid what we are against in this kind of marriage arrangement is that one part in the whole process where a man penetrates another man in a sexual intercourse just to give but one illustration.

Lets call a spade a spade and not a big spoon.I don't need to go into to graphics to explain the human body parts and their nature functions.

The rest of the issues are however being brought into the whole quagmire unfairly if not to justify the end.

Thanks you professor for educating us on the political meaning of the concept of conscience vote on gay marriage.
I am not being comical but I would not be surprised soon or later if a group emerges trying to justify bestiality rights under a disguise of something like the love for animals for instance.

Hillan Nzioka | 02 December 2011  

To hold that any change in legislation is only “to formalise the manner in which some seek sexual gratification” is an extraordinarily narrow view of marriage in the modern context, John Frawley. Surely you’re not suggesting that only married people have sex and that sex is the only reasons heterosexuals marry?

Our deeper modern understanding of human relationships especially, the ability for couples to limit the size of their families, women’s increasing ability to provide financially for their families as well as men, perforce demand a review of what marriage means.

The current law can ensure that men and women remain financially responsible for any offspring, and that property is shared equitably in the event of a breakdown of a relationship. Marriage is much more than either of these two events however. Marriage is about love and commitment and the sexual orientation of those seeking to be married is irrelevant. For homosexual couples to be given the right to marry does not diminish one iota, heterosexuals’ rights or privileges.

We are all exhorted to “love our neighbour as ourselves”; we should thus seek marriage equity for our homosexual brothers and sisters.

Patricia | 02 December 2011  

Like I said, most of the comments here have nothing to do with John's article... Oh well, let me respond to a few. The issue at the centre of this debate is civil marriage, not religious marriage. The Church lost its monopoly on civil marriage long ago, and there are countries (France for example) where the state does not recognise a religious marriage marriage as a valid marriage from civil purposes. The question being debated in the political arena is whether access to civil marriage, which heretofore has been restricted to heterosexual couples, should be extended to homosexual couples. Pure and simple, nothing else, it is not about forcing same sex marriage on religious or other celebrants, or even denying churches and others the right to set their own rules about their own religious marriages. It is about civil marriage and so arguments based on religious beliefs, either for or against, are irrelevant (unless you think you have a right to impose your own religious views on society as a whole).

Nor, I suggest, is there any room for arguments based on the ability to produce children since procreation is irrelevant to civil marriage. Historically, civil marriage has had more to do with property than with sex! Nor does Cate's argument about the potential impact on notions of 'parent' and 'family' have any relevance since we are talking about civil definitions of those two terms which already include adopted children and adoptive parents.

Ginger Meggs | 02 December 2011  

Good one Charles Boy. As always the wise ancient Chinese knew the wisdom of 'ambiguity'. Nothing in heaven or earth, or even Trent's paradise of Catholic purity is simply black or white. Even grey has its different variations. What we Chinese believe is that life comes and goes in waves, one overlaps the other to produce a foam of answers that come from the previous wave, and so on.

Gay or heterosexual, true love is sacred and can celebrated in any way or form the protagonists desire. Just as death does not occur alphabetically, marriage as part of the human condition must not be determined by some historically suspect moral attitudes. There is no documented evidence that (even) Christ objected to same sex marriage.

Alex Njoo | 02 December 2011  

Mervyn homosexuality is not an "ordered union" stop playing footsie with words. That the gay couple may desire one another that is their business but it is not an ordered union. Its like trying to put a sqaure into a triangle. it doesnt fit and no amount of words and manipulation will make it fit.

Anne Lastman | 02 December 2011  

Love that video.

Pam | 02 December 2011  

Harry Wilson reminds us that Liberal party rules do not prevent a Liberal member from voting any way he or she likes on any matter. This shows up that their voting generally is on party lines just as much as for the Labor members. In other words, it seems as though our politicians only vote the way they really think (aka a “conscience” vote) when they are permitted by the party room or if they think their electorate and local party branch will approve. In other words, most of our politicians are generally supine, preferring conformity with party strategy over any thought out ethical judgment. What other interpretation is possible? Meanwhile, we can take it, as Harry also reminds us, that ‘conscience” or whatever they might think passes for it, is suspended for just about every other ethical consideration that impacts on ordinary people, like war, economic retrenchment and dislocation, welfare elimination etc.
Just think: we have, effectively, a conscience-free form of government. How does that make you feel?

Stephen Kellett | 02 December 2011  

It's a matter of equality before the law and a human right and nothing to do with conscience or medieval political games.

Marilyn Shepherd | 02 December 2011  

Talk about ending with a whimper instead of a bang. So what if "human stories" contribute to a same sex victory? Newsflash: there are human stories on every side of just about every debate! Abortion, euthanasia, IVF, donor insemination ... you name it, there are humans on either side, and they have "stories". Um. So what?

Plus: does it ever occur to the author that SOME human stories never, or rarely, reach the floor of parliament, either intrinsically, or by accident? The experiences of aborted babies, and the euthanased, won't be heard in this world. And those children now living in "gay" families often won't know what's going on and whether it's OK for them for decades hence.

To suppose that vocalised stories are the only ones that count is weird, given the progressive cant about "diversity" and "inclusiveness" and that oft-enunciated commitment to being the "voice of the voiceless". So why do they systemically privilege the stories of the presently vocal and powerful over the silent and/or possible victims?

BTW: same sex marriage is defeated, won't it be possible to infer that "human stories" contributed to that? Why was that not said with equal stress?

Sometimes I despair at the reasoning - if that's not too strong a term - of contributors to this blog.

HH | 02 December 2011  

HH: I agree with you. I am a Christian homosexual male and I happen to hold very traditional views on Catholic teachings on the intrinsic value of human life (ie Abortion, euthanasia, IVF). So for those of you who thing gay marriage is a "progressive". political issue, think again. It's purely and simply a human rights issue. Gay marriage does/will not alter the ethical Christian values of Abortion, euthanasia, IVF, etc. These values are the same for all of us.
Homosexuals are people and we are are not "flavour of the month" ANNE LASTMAN - we have existed since the start of God's creation. I too sometimes feel that my sexuality is disordered because I have listened for far too long to the biggoted and selfish ignorance of people.

AURELIUS | 03 December 2011  

Ginger Meggs, I was absolutely astounded by your contention that "procreation is irrelevant to civil marriage", and that, historically, the latter was "more about property than sex". It may have been about property, but the whole point of it, I thought, was to ensure that property was inherited by legitimate heirs. If (civil) marriage had nothing to do with procreation, why was it that, until relatively recently, such a big deal was made about whether or not a child was "legitimate" (ie born within a marriage), and why did people suffer so much discrimination if they weren't? While I'm a supporter of gay rights in most ways, I really think we need to keep marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Procreation occurs as the result of the union of male and female - that's a basic principle of nature. The environmental crisis has taught us what can happen if we get too much out of sync with nature, so surely we, as a society, should enshrine that principle somehow!

CathyT | 03 December 2011  

Is it possible for the opponents of marriage equality to prosecute their case without insults and denigrations?

Richard Moore | 03 December 2011  

The greatest danger to Australia is not an external enemy; it is not the danger of terrorism or global warming. The greatest danger to Australia is Nihilism, which tries to destroy any “moral” values and standards. A strong following of Nietzschean philosophy seems to running not only the Bob Brown Greeens party, but managed to implant its anti-Christian and anti-Muslim platform within the Labor party.

Beat Odermatt | 04 December 2011  

Unlike Pam, I do not love the video. It tries to present gays experiencing life and marriage just like heterosexual couples. The traditional view of marriage was that a man and woman would remain together for life and be faithful to each other.

Whilst many are keen to redefine marriage to same-sex couples, there is evidence that the issue of fidelity is even more problematic for gays and lesbians than for heterosexual couples.

An article by Ruth Houston at Examiner.com contained the following sobering facts.

"The book Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, by authors Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, and Kolata, cites a study of homosexual male couples conducted by gay researchers.

The couples who participated had been together between 1 and 37 years.

Findings were as follows:

100% (all) of the couples experienced infidelity in their relationship within the first 5 years.

Couples who remained together past the 10-year mark were able to do so only by accepting the painful reality of infidelity in their relationship."

If we want an honest evaluation of same-sex "marriage", such facts as these need to be included. Such high rates of infidelity suggest to me that being treated as "equal" is hardly going to solve all issues of self-esteem and belonging amongst gays and lesbians.

John Ryan | 04 December 2011  

So there are some who want to extend the exclusive and extensive financial and social benefits from one segment of the community to another small percentage. And all in the name of human rights? What about the massive discrimination against the silent suffering? As a single male, not only do I miss out on the well documented health benefits of being in a relationship, I also get discriminated against on the basis of this obvious short coming in society's view. How weird that on the basis of some type of chemical passion and desire to stick parts of one's anatomy into another person (or vice versa) (or not at all), and actually going through with it, gives one the right to receive a special certificate from the government saying that this is so, not to mention all the money as well. Surely the main group being discriminated against here is made up of those who the 4chan forums would affectionately call 'the forever alone guy'. Perhaps if Miss Penny Wong and Bobby Green (or was it Brown?) really cared about discrimination they would fight for us poor chumps receiving our certificates and tax breaks instead of just focusing on the perceived rights of the minority groups that they belong to.

Francis | 04 December 2011  

So relieved to read the wonderfully simple, sensible idea proposed by Ginger Meggs! I have been puzzled all through the endless debates on the "problem" of gay marriage as to why the religious aspect of the marriage service could not be kept for the heterosexual couple only. (No problems then for the troubled minister/priests.) A registry office service, a marriage celebrant in a beautiful garden, Bali, or one of the many alternatives would surely be a happy solution. The marriage celebrant would surely be happy to ask also for a blessing on the union of the gay couple.

Mary Maraz | 05 December 2011  

Thanks, Aurelius - I agree with you too about many things. Not just about abortion, etc. But also that gay marriage is a human rights issue. It's about the profound human right of a child not to be deprived by human choice of being raised in the community of his or her natural family. That's at the heart of the "Stolen Generations" case - whatever one thinks of the merits of that case in its particulars. And it's at the heart of the Church's unrelenting opposition to donor insemination and surrogacy. We are only now beginning to hear the cries of donor inseminated children as they seek out their lost fathers. "Gay marriage" deprives children of this right as well.

HH | 05 December 2011  

We all know what a marriage is and has been for centuries, i.e. the union of a man and a women to form a family. This is certainly not the same as the union of two males. Perhaps a new name could be invented; perhaps some parties in this forum could invent some new name for this purpose!!

Peter | 05 December 2011  

CATHYT, thanks for your response. The point that I was trying to make about procreation and civil marriage is that most religious marriage ordinances assert that marriage was ordained by God for, among other matters, procreation. In civil marriage there is no such assertion/assumption. Civil marriage is a relationship between two adults, pure and simple. You suggest that procreation occurs as the result of the union of male and female, but it's really the union of a (male) sperm and a (female) egg, and there are plenty of children being born these days whose 'procreation' didn't occur through conventional heterosexual intercourse. And have you considered that by denying same-sex couples the right to civil marriage you are condemning the children born of those unions to illegitimacy? As to the shame and discrimination inflicted, until recently, on 'illegitimate' children and their mothers (seldom on their fathers), I suggest that it was mostly to do with the historical subordination of women to men, a condition which the churches have generally endorsed. Look no further than the typical religious marriage service where the woman is 'given' by her father to her husband. Or the comparison with the relationship between Christ (male) and his Church (female). (By the way, have you wondered why a nun wears a wedding rings but her male counterpart doesn't?)

Ginger Meggs | 06 December 2011  

G.Meggs, what's the point you're making about civil law and marriage? I mean, civil law (i.e. the Marriage Act)currently doesn't just say marriage is a "relationship between two adults, pure and simple." It says it's a union between a man and a woman. And guess what, this is not totally arbitrary. It alludes to the fact that a man and a woman, as opposed to same sex couples, can procreate through their sexual intercourse, and become mother and father of a family.

But nevertheless, we must admit: civil law can get things hopelessly wrong, by deviating from the natural law. Civil law seems to say abortion is OK. But it's not OK. It's murder. If civil law can get that basic natural insight wrong, it can also get marriage wrong. That's why there's the Church as the guarantor of truth.

And Cathy is right too about procreation being properly the result of a union of man and woman as nature intended. Sure, we can play around with test tubes and microscopes and manufacture whatever creature we want with bits of the human body - and maybe animal parts, too. This doesn't gainsay that the only moral way to generate our offspring is through natural intercourse.

HH | 06 December 2011  

HH, my point about civil marriage is that has not been handed down from a cloud-covered mountain, but is regulated by the Marriage Act, an Act of Parliament, which can and has been changed by mere mortals just like you and me.

It's true that the Australian Marriage Act as amended includes the definition 'marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life', but that was only inserted in 2004, a mere seven years ago, which illustrates the point that I am making, that is that the law regarding civil marriage is a 'man-made' law and can therefore be changed. Incidentally, the Marriage Act nowhere 'alludes' to procreation, and many people who enter into a civil marriage have no intention of procreating; another point that I was making to CathyT.

And yes, 'man-made' law can be imperfect, and can get it wrong, and can become out-of-step with a changed and changing society, and then it's appropriate to change it. Slavery was once lawful, buggery was once a criminal offence, murderers were once hanged, heretics were once burned, Catholics were once barred from graduating from universities, and in some other jurisdictions adulterers were once stoned and sati was once practiced. But society came to see those as wrong and the 'man-made' law was changed. If you disagree with a man-made law, then you are welcome to try to change it, and in doing so to follow your sincerely held beliefs, but don't resort to arguments that quote religious teachings or revelations to try and convince the rest of us.

Ginger Meggs | 06 December 2011  

GM: Contrary to your assertion, the Marriage Act in its substance did come from a “cloud-­covered mountain”. Marriage is part of natural revelation and refined by the Judeo-­Christian supernatural revelation. Our law wasn’t cobbled together out of thin air. It was forged by a society still very much under the influence that Judeo­-Christian tradition. That’s precisely the reason for the amendment in 2004: up till that time it was assumed by practically everyone that marriage could only be between a man and a woman. True, this wasn’t stipulated in the law. Not because marriage wasn’t understood on those terms, but only because it was so obvious it went without saying. It was only when that assumption began to be challenged that the amendment was made. This sort of thing happens in the law all the time. Lawmakers can purport to do virtually anything they wish. They can make a law that says the force of gravity shall cease to have effect on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can make a law that blondes don’t have a right to life. They can legislate that marriage can extend to threesomes or that a person can marry himself. Despite any damage that may ensue from abiding by these laws ­ broken legs, massacres of blonde people, distorted family relationships, none of these laws has any power to alter the actual entities they propose to transform ­ gravity, the inalienable right to life, the institution of marriage. Of course, if you reject the realities of the laws of nature, human and non­human, and their relation to human positive law, well, okay. But in that case you too are channeling your own version of a cloud­-covered mountain.

HH | 09 December 2011  

SO Andreas Berg I ask "does absolute right to chose a companion validate choosing a pedophile spouse who is clearly a danger to prospective children-adopted or otherwise??"

[this is not ivory tower pedantry since family pedophilia is higher percentage wise than e.g. clerical pedophilia etc;

Does such an absolute 'right' to a Mr or Ms right warrant marrying an enchanting sociopath[love is blind after all]?

Given the higher breakdown of SSU juxtaposed with hetero divorce[Scandinavian research]: is an absolute ssu selection the best one for planned adoption scenarios and absolute rights of children vis a vis family security?-or does the 'steamroller-absolute-right-to-companion' entail society and easily damaged children just have to tough it out?

[thank God Andreas is not a politician into a conscience vote[such surely banks at worst on minimum altruistic ethics not bare jungle instincts]

Father John Michael George | 09 December 2011  

So soon! The next twist of the knife- marriage for more than two:

In today's Australian (Saturday 10 December):

"Inquirer this week contacted some of the most vocal supporters within the ALP caucus for legalising gay marriage: Finance Minister Penny Wong, Schools Minister Peter Garrett, Social Inclusion Minister Tanya Plibersek, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, left convener Doug Cameron and Stephen Jones, who plans to introduce a same-sex marriage bill.

Inquirer asked them: "Do you, given your deep commitment to the topic, believe that at the next ALP national conference the platform should be further amended to legalise marriage among polyfidelist triads?"

Not one would speak to Inquirer on the topic, and most did not reply."

Will any supporters of same sex marriage here at ES have the courage these Labor MPs so singularly lack, and either distinguish logically their case from the case for legalized multi-partner "marriage"... or admit (what seems to me to be the case) that there is no distinction?

HH | 10 December 2011  

It is all very well to say same sex couples should have equal rights with heterosexual couples. However what is in issue here is surely the question whether a union between same sex couples is the same as that between persons of the opposite sex. I venture to say it is not. A sexual union between people of the same sex will not produce offspring of itself, whereas a sexual union between persons of the opposite sex may. The latter union is therefore the natural way to produce and nurture a family. That is why it can be called a marriage when legalised under the Marriage Act. the distinction between the two types of unions is fundamental to the way our society operates.

Why should we change the Marriage Act then? If same sex couples want equal rights with those of heterosexual couples who are married, then they should advocate for special legislation to achieve that, rather than seek amendment of the Marriage Act which is there to provide for traditional marriages.

Tony Santospirito | 10 December 2011  

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